I'm relieved to see it's not a scrapbook of me. It's of my mother's two young nephews during Halloween. While I look at the scrapbook, Duma jumps into my mother's lap, lies down and closes his eyes. My mother begins to sing:
"Go to sleep little baby. Go to sleep and do not cry. Lay your head on Mommy's shoulder and close your pretty eyes."
In an instant, I am transformed into a scared little girl, confused by my father's ever-changing moods and my mother's inability to help him. My mother used to sing this song to me as a child to try to comfort me. It never worked. And what she doesn't realize now is that it brings back the war for me. I see myself in the trailer where we used to live, locked inside my bedroom closet.
"Do you remember this song," she wants to know.
"Yes," I say.
I desperately want her to stop singing, but I don't have the heart to say so.
"Come upstairs and let me show you what I've done with your book," she says, finally. She has created several shadow boxes containing pictures from my book and the book jacket. The boxes hang next to similar shrines holding my father's Army boots and medals from Vietnam.
I cannot get away from this house fast enough.
I tell my mother that Evelio and I have to leave to do some interviews. I've promised myself I'll revisit some familiar sites from my childhood and see how they make me feel. I want to visit three places: the river where my Dad and I used to go fishing (and to which he fled when he felt suicidal), the trailer where I grew up (when my parents sold it, it was moved three miles down the road to another trailer park) and my old high school.
I can tell Mom and Dad want to go with us. In fact, they've missed church because they want to spend time with me. But I know I can sort through my emotions better on my own.
The same river, but a different view
I feel weepy driving down the curvy mountain road to the river. I haven't seen this place in almost 20 years. My father's been back here, and he assures me the old brick silo is still here. I hold my breath as it comes into view.
I don't remember the mountains, the river or the rolling pastures being so picturesque. They were just a normal part of my daily life back then. I also never realized I could look in any direction here and not see a single house.
There's a fence around the pasture now; the cattle can no longer just make their way at leisure from one side of the road to the other. I crawl over a bridge guardrail and walk into the pasture. I remember the exact spot where my father and I used to fish. I think about the day he saved the life of a fish I caught. I was trying to free the fish but couldn't get the hook out of its mouth. It began to die in my hands, blood flowing from its gills. My father quickly cut the line, assuring me the hook would dissolve in the fish's mouth in time. He held the fish underneath a waterfall (so it could get more oxygen, he said) until it was jumping with life again. Then he released it into the water.
It's nice to be here again, to look at the waterfall and the silo in the distance and remember this place in a positive light. I can still see my father and me back then. I'm 7, and he is a young man in his late 30s, just a few years older than I am today. This place feels so peaceful. For so many years, the only thing I associated it with was my father, his gun and fears we would never see him again.
If I were feeling depressed or anxious, this is the kind of place I'd seek out, where I could be at one with nature. I've never thought of this before, but maybe this place saved my father's life.
A trailer, a closet and tears
I drove past our old trailer in Honaker two years ago and snapped a picture. I wanted to show my colleagues in Atlanta where I used to live. But that's the only time I've seen it since I was 12, when my parents built the house they live in now and we watched the trailer roll away.
It jars me when I see it again. My heart races, and I take deep breaths as I park my car at the bottom of the hill. The trailer is painted in almost exactly the same colors I remember -- blue, brown and white -- and has a wooden roof atop the thin metal one I remember. I have it in mind that I'll walk around the perimeter of the property and take some pictures. Just to be polite, I knock on the door before snooping around.
I can hear movement inside, but it takes the person a long time to get to the door. When the door finally opens, a large man in an electric wheelchair introduces himself as Grover Lambert.
I don't plan to do this, but I find myself suddenly asking if I can come in. "I used to live in this trailer," I tell him. "My parents are Judy and Delmer Presley."
Grover remembers them, and he remembers me. He bought the trailer when I was just a kid. He keeps asking me how old I am, in disbelief that I'm 34. "I remember you as a little kid about this big," he says, raising his hand about 3 feet off the floor.
I explore the trailer and find not much has changed. Even the wallpaper in some of the rooms is the same. It feels so claustrophobic. It's hard to believe three people ever lived together in this place. There's new carpet, and Grover has replaced the kitchen counters. There's a stench of sweat and medicine.
I ask Grover if he reads much, because I want to thank him by giving him a copy of my book. I am stupefied by his response. "I can't read," he says, looking down to avoid eye contact. "I never did get much education."
It's hard for me to look at him. I feel embarrassed that I asked, and so sorry for him, too. I don't know what I'd do without books and stories. They've saved my life in many ways. I look around the trailer -- and at Grover -- and all I can think is that this could have been me. I feel guilty that I was able to save myself, to get out of this town when so many others couldn't.